When Seton Hall's 2013-14 non-conference was about to be officially announced last August, I wrote an in-depth preview of their opponents and how I thought they would finish in the RPI rankings.
On paper, the initial prognosis was bleak, with a projected maximum of two opponents within the top-100 and five below 300 in the NCAA-relevant RPI rankings. After the games were played, Seton Hall's scheduled slate finished 314th in terms of strength of schedule, and 207th in RPI. The schedule was ranked the 344th (out of 351) strongest by KenPom.
How did a schedule ranked at the bottom of the Big East turn out to be even weaker than expected? (1) Six schools completed their seasons with an RPI lower than 250 instead of the projected five. (2) Three schools fell to the 201-250 RPI tier to total four instead of just Niagara projected to be sitting in that window. (3) The last school to remain in the neutral 101-200 RPI range instead of falling below 200, Rutgers, happened to finish at the bottom of the tier instead of closer to being top-100. Mercer and Oklahoma finished precisely where I expected them to.
The following is the prior paragraph in visual form, for all you spatial learners (like myself) out there. Final/current RPIs are in parenthesis while an asterisk indicates a team that finished worse than expected (when compared to my projected RPI preview) while a caret shows schools that performed better than expected.
RPI 1-50 (great schedule): Oklahoma (26)
RPI 51-100 (good schedule): Mercer (82)
RPI 101-200 (neutral): Rutgers (194)
RPI 201-250 (bad): Kent State (214*), Eastern Washington (228^), Saint Peter's (231^), Va Tech (248*)
RPI 251+ (terrible): Lafayette (259**), FDU (269), Monmouth (293), LIU-Brooklyn (299**), Niagara (302*), NJIT (308)
Although Seton Hall had an NIT-worthy record against top-50 and top-100 opponents at the end of the season, their sub-par RPI and way-below-average SOS prevented the Hall from ever receiving significant consideration from the NIT selection committee. Seven high-major schools (Georgetown, West Virginia, Marquette, Indiana, Washington, Miami (Fla.), and Wake Forest) finished above Seton Hall in RPI while winning the same amount of games (17) as the Pirates. Going further, two schools (Maryland, Oregon State) won 16 games and five schools (La Salle, Northern Iowa, Penn State, Fresno State, Vanderbilt) finished their seasons with just 15 wins but better RPIs than Seton Hall. Not surprisingly, all nine of the teams that finished with 17 or 16 wins played non-conference schedules within the top-250 while Seton Hall's non-conference slate (314) was way behind the pack. Of the five schools that ended their seasons with 15 wins but higher RPIs than Seton Hall, all but Penn State had non-conference schedule strengths in the top-150. The Nittany Lions' out-of-conference slate was still ranked over 100 spots better (212) than Seton Hall's.
Beyond a growingly apathetic group of season ticket holders, Seton Hall's scheduling would have hurt the Pirates' chances if they were close to the NCAA bubble and did actively damage, I would argue, their shot at receiving a bid to the 2014 NIT.
Heading into a program-changing 2014-15 season that will demand post-season results of some kind, it will be interesting to see if Kevin Willard and his staff finally decide to challenge themselves prior to entering Big East league play. So far we know that Seton Hall will play a decent-not-great field in the 2014 Paradise Jam, and will travel to Athens to take on a Georgia team (part of a home-and-home series) that loses next to nothing from a 19-13 team that will play in the NIT. Seton Hall is also looking to start a home-and-home series at home and fill a handful of open dates at Prudential Center before completing their 2014-15 non-conference schedule.
If you were on the coaching staff, would you load up on more opponents like Georgia? Teams in the 75-175 RPI region? A couple more teams like Georgia and a handful of cupcakes?